November 30, 2003, Updated September 13, 2012

SAP’s Shai Agassi: What the world needs is systems trained to work with the people.”Israeli Shai Agassi, chief technology developer and member of the board of directors of German software giant SAP, was named one of the 20 top ‘Global Influentials for 2003’ on a CNN-Time Magazine joint list.

Agassi joined a list which included Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini, McDonald’s president and COO Charlie Bell, Walt Disney Company president and CEO Robert Iger, PepsiCo president and CFO Indra Nooyi.

Agassi, who is only 36 years old, lives in California’s Silicon Valley with his wife and two children, but returns frequently to his native Ra’anana. His young age is a sign of the early start he received: programming his first computer at age 7. His giftedness was recognized early in his life.

“Other kids collected baseball cards,” Agassi told Time. “I collected punch cards.” At age 15, he completed high school and went to study at the Haifa Technion.

Agassi’s started four companies in his 20s and sold one, Top Tier, to SAP for $400 million. Another company he founded, Menahel, was sold to SAP for $10 million and has become SAP Manage. In February SAP made Agassi the first non-German member of its board, and he replaced SAP founder Hasso Plattner in the top technologist role.
Agassi today works as chief technology developer of the world’s largest business-software company, Germany’s SAP, after founding a number of Israeli startups.

Agassi and his family were informed of the Time/CNN selection just one day prior to the public announcement.

“It was very surprising indeed,” Reuven Agassi, who founded Top Tier together with his son, told the financial daily The Marker. “I know that they were looking for people who have done something different under their own steam, with personal achievements; and that’s how they came to Shai.”

Agassi, according to his father, took the announcement in stride, continuing his daily routine despite the obvious joy. “He doesn’t see it as something extraordinary.”

Agassi’s personal wealth is estimated at approximately $40 million. Early in his career, he told the Israeli press that his goal was not only to become a millionaire himself, but to make all of the ten colleagues he worked with closely into millionaires – he says that he has achieved that goal.

SAP is the third-biggest software house in the world, after Microsoft and Oracle. It commands 35% of the business-software market, which is estimated to be worth $40 billion a year. SAP has made Israel its global development center for its SAP Business One application, which is designed for the small- and medium-sized business market. SAP Manage, which is the company’s Israeli branch and is run by Agassi’s father, serves as the worldwide support center for the product line.

In light of local expansion, SAP recently leased an 8,000 square meter location in Ra’anana where it will set up SAP House and unite all of the company’s development centers in Israel under one roof. SAP employs some 450 workers in Israel. The company’s operations with large organizations in Israel are conducted through Ness Technologies, the exclusive distributor for SAP’s Enterprise Resource Planning management application in the country.

Asked by Time how SAP could protect its market share, Agassi suggested that training people to use computers is “stupid”. “What the world needs is systems trained to work with the people.”

The Time/CNN choice was hailed by Israeli business leaders. “Every additional Israeli who receives international recognition strengthens the image of Israeli hi-tech,” Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi told The Marker.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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